Sunday, 3 February 2013

Art from Oaxaca and more

Lamp shade crafted out of handmade bee wax candles.
There was another reason for our recent trip to Riihimäki besides the visit to the factory outlet. I wanted to see the two Mexican exhibitions ongoing at the art museum there. Both present culture from Oaxaca, a state with a population of close to 4 million located in the southern part of the United Mexican States (which, by the way, is formed by 31 states and the City of Mexico and has an estimated population of some 113 million!).

Luz y Color de Oaxaca’ shows works by 10 young artists. A few light and bright details are pictured below.

But it was the second exhibition entitled ‘Objeto transverso that I was more interested in. It displays objects that were created in workshops bringing Oaxacan artisans together with designers and artists to renew traditional thinking in handicraft work. It is a project by the Oaxaca design centre, the Centro de Diseño de Oaxaca, which is “the first public institution in Mexico to promote design as a strategic tool for fostering social, economic, and cultural development”, as described on their website.

The exhibits include glass items and molded bee wax candles;

accessories and table textiles woven in thread and wire on traditional back-strap looms;

woolen rugs, clothing and other items woven on pedal looms;

as well as tinware and items woven by hand out of palm leaves.

I made a peculiar observation: the crafts and designs considered traditional and characteristic of a particular part of the world have become astonishingly global. I felt any of the objects could have been created by a local artisan, excluding the tin and palm leaf items, which, in turn, could have been from India, for example. The methods and processes may differ but the language of handicraft seems to be startlingly universal.

I must add a few words about the museum itself. For such a humble town with a population of less than 30,000, Riihimäki has quite a notable Art Museum founded in the 1990s thanks to a donation made by a prominent Helsinki-based art and antique dealer. His remarkable collection of a good 2000 pieces consisted of more than 1000 paintings, some 200 sculptures, 400 prints, drawings and watercolours, and 500 antique items.

When a collection is this vast only a small fraction of it can be on display at any given time.
The present exhibition shows a few dozen domestic works, mainly from the early decades of the 20th century, including 12 of the collection’s 36 paintings by our beloved Helene Schjerfbeck, one of the most celebrated and renowned Nordic artists. This was a delightful surprise as we were unfortunate enough to miss the extensive exhibition that marked the 150th anniversary of her birth at our national gallery the Ateneum Art Museum last year. (I can’t believe we actually managed to miss that.)

Schjerfbeck has become such a major star, such an untouchable I couldn’t even imagine taking my camera out of my pocket in front of her work. But I did shoot a few of the other paintings. Those pictured above 
(from left to right) by Jalmari Ruokokoski, Hugo Backmansson and Ingrid Ruin are the ones I found the most energizing in the present show, in addition to the Schjerfbecks, naturally.

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